Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Theology, Great Fantasy Literature, and Kittens in Boxes

I have a social media crush. I like his every photo and coo and swoon and post comments about how cute he is. He is fuzzy, playful, grey and named Gandalf, how could I not like him?

Just look at his cute little face! I can barely take it. 

Gandalf was recently added to the household of my friend Christen and he is just the best. Now, imagine with me for a moment that you like kittens. No, I don't care that you don't normally like cats, just humor me and pretend. Are you pretending? Good. 

Now, imagine that Gandalf arrived as a gift to you. You adore him and he is so stinking cute and loveable that you spend all your time focusing on the box in which he arrived. You keep the box and study it, you know it's dimensions and the exact name of the color of the cardboard because that is the box that Gandalf came in and you just can't get enough of this cute little creature. So you talk about the box and think about the box and focus on the box that Gandalf arrived in. That, of course, is foolishness. It's ridiculous to focus on the box and miss the adorable, mischievous moments involved in being around a legendary wizard kitten. Yet we do this with Christianity. 

If only Gandalf were always so peaceful. 

We focus on it's parameters. Too often we focus on the things about Christianity that delineate one thing from another. We focus on making sure we are in line with it, and we ask who is in and who is out. We ask what is good and right.  We ask where the line is or just how close we can get to the line without stepping over. I think we have lost something when we begin by thinking about it as a set of ideas and beliefs. We need to move towards treating it as a country we are participating in, carrying with us, and trying to live out.  I am not saying that theological discussions aren't important- they are. I am not saying that guarding the boundaries of our doctrine is not important- it is. But not first- not before or at the expense of encountering Christ Himself. It is the difference between Eustace seeing the picture on the wall and being pulled onto the Dawn Treader. It is the difference between being a Facebook friend and actually sitting down and sharing a coffee with someone. It is the difference between focusing on the box and focusing on the kitten. 

We need to get to a place that I think Lewis and Chesterton understood- they spoke of Christianity in positive terms. Lewis was surprised by joy and Chesterton talked about being drawn to the Christian faith because he was drawn to the magic in the world. 
The things I believed most then, the things I believe most now, are the things called fairy tales. They seem to me to be the entirely reasonable things. They are not fantasies: compared with them other things are fantastic. Compared with them religion and rationalism are both abnormal, though religion is abnormally right and rationalism abnormally wrong. Fairyland is nothing but the sunny country of common sense. It is not earth that judges heaven, but heaven that judges earth; so for me at least it was not earth that criticised elfland, but elfland that criticised the earth. I knew the magic beanstalk before I had tasted beans; I was sure of the Man in the Moon before I was certain of the moon.
-G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

 Chesterton was drawn to fairy tales because he needed for things about them to be true. We all get that. You can see it in the popularity of Harry Potter and LOTR, and Divergent. They present a world- something that is or could be.  They do not explain it's boundaries or it's cogs and wheels; instead they draw us into the peace of the shire, and the drama of Hogwarts. They do not put out a primer about how to understand these worlds, they simply invite us in. They present these places as real. Jesus also spoke like this: "The kingdom is a mustard seed. The kingdom is a farmer who planted in a field.  The Kingdom is a fig tree." These are all positive images. They are pictures of things that are.

Christianity is something. It is what is, and what is becoming, and what will be. As opposed to trying to use it as a plumb line, try to encounter it as a living thing. It is not a set of dimensions and flaps and paper shreds bound together to form a container. It is something alive, growing, changing, bringing life to dead things, and restoration to mankind. It is a lion, a baby, a burning bush. It is 13 men on a hillside trying to feed several thousand people. It is a kingdom. Christianity IS something, and I need to think about it more that way. So do you. 

Forget the box. Spend time with Gandalf. 
You can follow Gandalf and Christen on Instagram at trubrarian or

1 comment:

  1. You nailed it! Religion is the abnormality--Kingdom is truth. Thanks for reminding me to get caught up in the wonder! Miss you.